The Rational Theology of the Cambridge Platonists

Workshop: The Rational Theology of the Cambridge Platonists

Cambridge University Divinity Faculty

28th and 29th July 2022

Organised by the Cambridge Platonist Research Caucus and the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Platonism

Thursday, 28th July, 5.00: Beierwaltes Lecture
Thomas Hanke, Münster: “Aspects of the ‘inner Christ’: rational soteriology as a key feature of philosophy of religion” (Comparing Cudworth and Kant).

Friday, 29th July, 9.00–6.00: Workshop and Reading Seminar
9.00–9.45: Christian Hengstermann, Wuppertal, “Religious Epistemology and Biblical Hermeneutics in Henry More’s Early Poetry and University Sermons”

9.45–10.30: Bogdan Deznan, Bucharest, “Theosis in the Cambridge Platonists”.

Coffee break

11.00–11.45: Marilyn A. Lewis, Bristol, “A Cambridge Platonist Soteriology: Henry Hallywell’s The Sacred Method of Saving Humane Souls by Jesus Christ (1677)”

11.45–12.30: Adrian Mihai, Cambridge, “Cudworth and the Problem of Atheism”

Lunch at Selwyn College

2.00–2.30: Douglas Hedley, Cambridge, Introduction to the Rational Theology of the Cambridge Platonists (Reading Seminar)

2.30–4.00: Readings from The Routledge Anthology of the Cambridge Platonists, “Ontology and Metaphysics”

Coffee break

4.30–6.00: Readings from The Routledge Anthology of the Cambridge Platonists, “Rational Theology”

6.00: Drinks reception to celebrate the foundation of The Cambridge Platonist Research Caucus


Considerations of Substance in Early Modern English Philosophy: Cudworth, Trotter, Conway

DATE: Tuesday, November 16

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (ET) / 8 PM Bucharest time (UTC+2)

PANEL: Considerations of Substance in Early Modern English Philosophy: Cudworth, Trotter, Conway

SPEAKERS: Olivia Branscum (Columbia University), Sofía Calvente (Universidad Nacional de La Plata) & Natalia Strok (Universidad de Buenos Aires)


Monism, Panpsychism, and Mind-body Problems: The Case of Anne Conway

Olivia Branscum

Let’s consider panpsychism to be the view that mental capacities (and perhaps consciousness) are fundamental in and ubiquitous to the natural world. [N.b.: the dual requirements of fundamentality and ubiquity derive from a definition offered by William Seager (2020).] Conceived this way, panpsychism might seem like a solution to the mind-body problem: if ‘everything thinks,’ after all, then classic substance interaction issues appear to lose their urgency. In this talk, I argue that proposing panpsychism as a solution to ‘the’ mind-body problem is insufficient. Rather, we must scrutinize the fundamental ontology that attaches to a particular panpsychist system, thereby assessing its risk factors for multiple mind-body problems as part of a holistic evaluation of the system’s theoretical and practical suitability. I first highlight the ways in which different forms of monism produce their own mind-body problems, looking briefly at two forms of idealism (like those sometimes attributed to Berkeley and Leibniz) and mechanistic materialism as concrete examples. While monistic panpsychisms in general do address the interaction problem, other serious issues can arise, including problems with emergentism (how do physical or mental qualities emerge from immaterial or psychically inert substances?) and/or the superfluity of corporeal perceptions. After canvassing the mind-body problems encountered by various ontological options, I then sketch the system of Anne Conway to suggest that her distinctive monism about creation — taken together with the form of panpsychism that, as I argue, she espouses — fares better against mind-body problems than some prominent alternatives do. The presentation will close with an acknowledgment of several difficulties faced by Conway’s system.

Catharine Trotter Cockburn’s puzzle: immaterial unintelligent substance, thinking matter and hierarchy of beings

Sofía Calvente

Catharine Trotter Cockburn (1679-1749) offers a novel and disruptive conception of substance that blurs any sharp distinctions between matter and spirit. This conception is reflected in her understanding of space expressed in Remarks upon some Writers (1743), where she defines it in terms of a non-thinking immaterial substance that acts as a transition link between non-thinking material substance and thinking immaterial substance. In order to put forward this definition of space, she resorts to the Platonic thesis that the universe is organized as a hierarchy of all possible types of beings, which are distinguished from each other by degrees only. Her novel conception of substance already finds a precedent in her first writing, A Defense of Mr. Locke’s Essay (1702) where she argues that thought is not necessarily linked to immateriality and therefore there is no contradiction in endowing matter with the power to think. These statements allow us to find an unifying thread in her metaphysical thought, since the dissociation of thought from immateriality opens the way to proposing the existence of an immaterial and non-thinking substance: space. However, the consistency of her metaphysics is threatened by her adherence to the Great Chain of Being thesis, since the hierarchy of beings implicit in that thesis seems to clash with the possibility of thinking matter, because matter is placed in the lowest step within the scale of beings. My aim is to evaluate whether Cudworth’s thesis that immaterial substance is an active principle that works in matter -producing thought, in the case of human beings- may be a good alternative to solve this inconsistency or other alternatives might be sought.

Souls, subtle bodies, and hierarchy of beings in Ralph Cudworth

Natalia Strok

Ralph Cudworth (1617-1688) is one of the main figures of the so-called Cambridge Platonism of seventeenth century. He proposes a dualist metaphysics that departs from Desacartes’ dualism of res extensa and res cogitans. In the Cambridge Platonist philosophy immaterial substance is active, just active, without needing to be mental or even conscious (this is the case of the plastic nature, for example), although it achieves different degrees of complexity. On the other hand, material substance is passive, it is bulk and extension. According to the Platonic tradition, Cudworth presupposes a hierarchy of beings, where matter finds the last place and rational souls the first, when dealing with the created world. Nevertheless, it is interesting that incorporeal substance works inwardly in matter, and souls are always united to some kind of body, so it is not possible to find a soul without a body, although, logically and in the scale of beings, souls are superior to bodies. In this way there is a chain of beings where the two substances are always together. In this paper I would like to understand the meaning of this necessity of the union and search for different kinds or configurations of bodies, which accompanies different configuration that the incorporeal substance presents. It is interesting that Cudworth does not sustain extension for immaterial substance, as his fellow Henry More would do, but finds a certain “essential profundity” or “βάθος”, in Simplicius terms, as a characteristic for this substance.

Jean Pascal Anfray (ENS Paris) “Mind and its Place in Descartes”

Jean Pascal Anfray (ENS Paris) Mind and its Place in Descartes The virtual space of the Groningen History of Philosophy Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen